How To Survive Attending A Big Conference like #SHRM16



If there are any industries that are all about face time, social media and networking, they are where HR and Technology collide. We connect and leverage connections; we exchange information, and we try our best to maximize the power of that intelligence. Yes, we’re profoundly transformed by tech, social and mobile. But we need human time in there, too. How? Conferences like #SHRM16.

Which is why many of us have next week booked on our calendar, as #SHRM16 kicks off on June 19. SHRM is a massive three-day deep-dive, packed with colleagues, resources, experts, suppliers, vendors, panels, keynotes, Q&As, meet and greets — hundreds of events. Some of us are going to simply jump on the plane and land, ready for come what may. Some of us strategize a game plan like it’s the HRBowl.

While how you conference comes down to your individual threshold and what/who you focus on reflects your specialty, there are two universal truths:

Everyone wants to feel better for having gone, enhanced with whatever special sauce we were craving, and proud of ourselves for staying real despite how easy it would have been to act otherwise — coming off like a manic squirrel at the cocktail party.

No one wants to have a hangover, and I’m talking about the professional version: that tug of regret, post-conference, for missing that one event we shouldn’t have or being too crispy on the edges to pay attention, to make the effort, to gather the intelligence.

Let me make it easier. I surveyed some people and brands that ace these events, and they all practice ten key strategies in order to not come off as a fake or suffer from mission failure:

1. It’s not only a party. One of the behaviors that knocks us off center is conference mania, when we simply can’t slow down because it’s all so shiny. Sure, we’re going to have fun and party. But dress the part. Keep your uniform on. It helps.

2. Go with a plan. Best way to avoid conference overload is to have a plan. Brainstorm ahead of time so you know what you’re after. Work out an itinerary that enables you to hit the events you need to hit. Make a tiered list: the must-catch, then the should-catch, and then the would be fun to-catch events on it. And like any good social calendar, make sure it’s both manageable and has some open space, for those impromptu and inevitable hallway encounters when the real networking happens.

3. Memorize and do the advance work. A smart spy memorizes the mug shots — we’ve all seen it in the movies. A smart networker reaches out before the event to initiate contacts. Nametags aside, it’s a faux pas to be frantically searching someone’s front for the badge, and just because you want to chat doesn’t mean they do. At the conference, keep those folks you’ve been dying to meet top of mind. Do the same with names and positions, where it’s important. And if you’ve reached out to someone ahead of time, make sure you find him or her and confirm the contact.

4. Give more than you take. You desperately need to make contact with someone and make a pitch. Think this is the time to do it? Think again. Just as the winds are changing from commodity to value in business, so, too, is networking is about the exchange of value. How can we offer value to each other? So don’t make it about you. Make it about them. When you want to ask, offer instead.

5. Don’t multitask. Frayed nerves and scattered focus comes off as a sign of inauthenticity. Further, we’ve learned that multitasking is a myth: We don’t really multitask, we just shift focus very quickly, and too much of that reduces how well we function in any one of those tasks. Curb that manic feeling and don’t succumb to the overload. When you are talking to someone, make it all about them.

6. Give good face. We know the link between expressions and behavior, so now’s not the time for a poker face. Like not overdoing the mimosas at the vendor breakfast, this is basic; but in this online, onscreen world we now inhabit, social rust has a way of setting in. But we are what we project. So look in the mirror if you’ve forgotten what your thousand-yard-stare looks like. And yes, smile.

7. Stretch: physically and mentally. A conference is an ideal setting for getting out of your comfort zone. Aside from the required events, aim outside the boundaries, both of your organization and your own position. A little cross-pollination can go a long way. To really understand this remarkably differentiated and ever-changing field, make sure you aim for one event you know utterly nothing about. We stick to our own sport a bit too often in this game.

8. Bring a friend — someone you’re mentoring or watching rise up the ranks. Seeing this massive gathering through newer eyes will refresh your perspective and remind you why you’re here. You’ll also have plenty of teachable moments. It’s not always the newbies that get the benefit of these kinds of perks, and it’s not always organizationally feasible. But it’s great karma.

9. Change the acronym. I had thought this was a gimmick until I realized it was entirely true: What we’re after, now more than ever, are meaningful, fertile relationships in this field — given the 24/7 connection we all need to have, and the myriad processes that go into talent acquisition and management now, saying “human resources” seems a bit dated.

10. Just go. Tired? Jaded? Want to recharge on an island of one? I feel your pain. But this is not the point on our workforce continuum to do so. The world of work is literally changing every day. Many of you may be genius but also secretly, very secretly, painfully shy. Yet every conference is about reaching out, asking questions, taking names, listening. Why? It’s our business, and that’s the bottom line. And there’s something about just doing your job that overrides any feelings of shyness or regret.

So think of it this way: If you go, you’re not failing. Remember that. See you there.

This post originally appeared on Forbes on 6/13/16.



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